If you find yourself constantly worrying about what others think about you or worrying that people don’t like you — your friends, your partner, your classmates — then know that you aren’t alone. Many adults have anxious attachment styles that impact their connections with other people. Do you have an anxious attachment style? Read on to find out and learn more.
What is an anxious attachment style?
The anxious attachment style is an attachment style in the insecure category, as described by attachment theory. People who have an anxious attachment style want to be loved. They really enjoy being close to other people and highly value their relationships. They’re capable of developing intimate relationships quickly.
However, when they’re alone, they feel a sense of anxiety or worry. They might believe that their partner is cheating on them or wants to break up with them. They might read into their friends’ text and become upset by a perceived slight. Their anxiety manifests into a deep focus on other people’s behaviors, speech, and needs. They also often have low self-esteem and a difficult time managing their feelings. Sometimes, they’re described as being “clingy” or “too much.”
What causes anxious attachment?
As with all of the attachment styles, how you were raised causes an anxious attachment style. Per attachment theory, babies and young children learn from their caregivers about how to relate to other people. They especially pick up on how their caregivers make them feel as a result of what they say or do.
Parents of people with anxious attachment styles may not have been consistent in their parenting, especially when it comes to paying attention to the needs of their children. For whatever reason, these parents went from being nurturing and caring in one moment too cold or distant in the next. This left the child unsure what to expect, resulting in anxiety. They might not have trusted that their caregiver would be there after school, causing them to worry all day. Or they might have started to believe that if they weren’t the perfect toddler, they would be ignored. You can see how these types of thoughts could grow into patterns and eventually, a style of relating to others.
What are the signs of anxious attachment?
There are many signs that accompany the anxious attachment style. While an anxious attachment style looks different for everyone, here are the generalizable ones:
- They’re overly invested in relationships. Because many people with anxious attachment styles base their self-worth off their relationships, their partners become central to their entire lives. This includes time and money investments, sometimes at the cost of their adult responsibilities.
- They’re always in relationships. People with anxious attachment styles do not like being by themselves. They tend to find people to date or connect with quickly — the alternative is being by themselves, which is something they’re scared of. They tend to define themselves through their relationships, so without being in one, they aren’t sure who they are or what to do.
- They have a hard time coping. When there’s a conflict in a relationship, it’s a heavy hit for people with anxious attachment styles. Because they’re constantly worried that their partner is going to break up with them, they may become overwhelmed with their emotions even at the slightest hint of an issue. This could look like inconsolable crying or not being able to manage their emotions. Their emotions might seem impulsive or incongruent to the situation.
- They need constant reassurance. People with anxious attachment styles need to know that they aren’t in trouble — this is a result of not having consistent parenting growing up. They might need their partner or partners to tell them that they’re committed, especially when they’re apart.
Being anxious all the time is no fun — people with anxious attachment styles don’t think, act, and feel this way on purpose. Their brains learned a long time ago to work in this way, which is now automatic. They might not have insight into why they act the way they do and might even be confused about it themselves. It’s important to note, however, that you can change your attachment reactions with some hard work.
How do you stop anxious attachment?
You can’t simply stop your anxiety by willing it away. People with anxious attachment styles can, however, take steps towards developing more security in themselves and their relationships.
Here are a few ways to stop your anxious attachment:
- Reflect on your past. You might learn something about yourself if you think all the way back to childhood. What was it like for you growing up? How did you feel about your parents when you were a kid? How did you know when you were in trouble? You might also reflect on past relationships and consider the unhealthy aspects that caused those relationships to end. Becoming aware of your tendencies will help you as you discover more about how you relate to others.
- Develop your coping skills. Coping skills are important when you feel overwhelmed with any emotions: anger, sadness, frustration, confusion. Find a few coping skills that help you when you feel overwhelmed and give them some practice. This could be deep breaths, journaling, baking — anything that helps you regain control over your emotions so you have the opportunity to think, clarify, and plan your next step.
- When ready, practice being alone. After you’ve reflected on your needs and developed some coping skills, it’s time to stretch outside your comfort zone and practice being in solitude. Whether you spend an hour alone or a whole day, pay attention to how it feels to be by yourself and any thoughts or feelings that arise. If you start to feel upset by something, challenge yourself to see the issue objectively.
- Remind yourself that you’re strong. Whatever it takes for self-esteem boost, you’re entitled to it! Remind yourself that you’re unique, resilient, and a good person.
- Collaborate with a therapist. Therapists can help you learn more about your attachment styles. They know how to guide you through introspection about yourself and your relationships in a way that maintains self-compassion. It’s a difficult process, unlearning harmful relationship patterns, so don’t do it alone!
Many therapists specialize in working with clients on their attachment styles. When you’re looking for a great therapist in your community, search Zencare’s therapist directory. You can even filter by Specialty, under which there is an option for “Attachment issues.” With the right support and the right tools, you can build security when it comes to relationships.